Drought in Summer

August 11, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: Drought, in poetry, has often served to represent spiritual dryness, as in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ memorable plea, “Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.”

Maybe the most striking image of craving a rain that holds off is in a sonnet by the nineteenth- century American poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. Tuckerman compares the moment when yet another day ends with no rain, darkness falling after the red sunset without relief–and the
other, midday moment, when a storm threatens but fails:

And so the day drops by; the horizon draws
The fading sun, and we stand struck in grief,
Failing to find our haven of relief,–
Wide of the way, nor sure to turn or pause,
And weep to view how fast the splendour wanes
And scarcely heed that yet some share remains
Of the red after-light, some time to mark,
Some space between the sundown and the dark.

But not for him those golden calms succeed
Who while the day is high and glory reigns
Sees it go by,–as the dim pampas plain,
Hoary with salt and gray with bitter weed,
Sees the vault blacken, feels the dark wind strain,
Hears the dry thunder roll, and knows no rain.